Our parents took care of us, and we owe it to them to do the same when they need us the most. Being a caregiver is hard work, though, especially when your parent has a chronic condition. Here are a few key things to keep in mind as you help your parent manage their care needs.

What does it mean to have a chronic condition?

The first step towards managing a chronic condition is understanding it. Knowledge is power, and with the right tools and coping strategies, your parent will feel more in control of their life. A chronic condition is a progressive health condition or disease that requires ongoing treatment. Some examples of chronic diseases and conditions are heart disease, hypertension, arthritis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and various chronic pain conditions.

Unlike a broken bone, you can’t just heal a chronic illness and go back to normal one day. Having a chronic condition usually means there’s no end in sight, which can make people feel helpless — but it doesn’t have to be that way. By understanding their condition and learning how to cope, your parent can take charge of their life again. You can empower them with the knowledge they need to make good health decisions and monitor themselves for any issues.

What are CCM services?

Chronic care management services (CCM services) aim to provide patients with a comprehensive care plan that includes educational materials and customized solutions. A CCM care plan will include support from clinical programs and nurse practitioners, putting your parent in good hands. Robust technology like predictive analytics can identify gaps in a chronic care management plan, providing an even more personalized and holistic approach. While CCM services are particularly useful for those with chronic health conditions like asthma and heart disease, anyone can use CCM to improve their general health. Helping your parents with medication management is a task in itself, but it may be worth it to seek out a more natural way to provide physical and mental comfort as well.

Do alternative treatments really work?

Holistic health practices such as yoga and Ayurveda have been around for thousands of years, but most natural remedies aren’t evaluated or approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the United States. Until more scientific research is done on the subject, Ayurvedic herbs and CBD products can’t legally be called treatments or cures. Many have called for integrating traditional medicine into chronic care plans, but their effectiveness hasn’t been measured across the board yet. Until then, these natural remedies come with a major disclaimer. Before seeking any of these alternative treatments, you should always consult your care team or primary care physician.

What is Ayurveda?

Originating in India, Ayurveda is a holistic healing approach that emphasizes the balance of body and mind. It draws from the concept of the five elements of the universe: fire, water, earth, air, and space. These elements combine to form three different doshas, or energies. The three doshas are Vata (space and air), pitta (fire and water), and Kapha (water and earth). Each person has their own unique mix of doshas, although one is usually dominant.

The general idea is that you can achieve physical and mental wellness by balancing your doshas. A lot of Ayurvedic herbs and spices, such as turmeric and ginger, do contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. That being said, they’re not evaluated or prescribed treatments. Drinking a nice cup of tea that contains some of these natural ingredients may help your parent feel more calm and relaxed, though, which certainly can’t hurt.

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol, or CBD for short, is a naturally occurring compound found in cannabis plants. Unlike THC, another cannabis compound, CBD has none of the psychoactive properties associated with marijuana. CBD oil and other products are legal in the United States now that industrial hemp has been legalized. Like Ayurveda practices, CBD hasn’t been evaluated as a medical treatment, but it’s believed by many to help ease occasional anxiousness or discomfort and promote restful sleep. Natural CBD infused Ayurvedic oil could possibly help alleviate a number of ailments, but you should talk with your doctor before trying any kind of CBD oil. Only one CBD medication for a severe form of epilepsy has been approved by the FDA, but that could change as more research is done.

How does chronic illness impact mental health?

Mental health is overlooked far too often when managing a chronic disease. Be watchful of the symptoms of depression and anxiety, and encourage your parent to seek treatment if necessary. The focus of a chronic care plan is usually on the physical health of a patient, especially when it’s a life-threatening illness. While this makes sense, their mental health is equally of concern. Research shows that people living with chronic illness have a higher risk of depression. Severe conditions, like a stroke, can actually cause changes to the brain and directly impact mental health. Ongoing feelings of stress, helplessness, and frustration can also trigger depression, which is why taking charge of one’s health education and management is so important. Compassion and companionship can also encourage hope and strength in your loved ones. People are feeling more lonely with the current restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, so staying in touch and checking in often is more important than ever.

When should you encourage treatment?

It’s normal for your parent to feel slightly sad or anxious when living with a chronic illness, especially after an initial diagnosis. Some of the natural remedies mentioned above can help ease occasional anxiousness, but if it’s starting to impact them in more severe ways, they may need professional help. Some common symptoms you should look out for are:

  • Prolonged feelings of sadness, guilt, or hopelessness
  • Fatigue and trouble sleeping
  • Avoiding treatments due to anxiety
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Eating too much or not enough
  • Expressing thoughts of suicide

It can be hard to open up about mental health issues but make sure your parent knows that they can turn to you if they need help. The most important thing you can do is let them know you’re there for them and that they’re not alone.

What are the financial options?

In the United States, more than 86% of our healthcare spending goes towards treating chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Even with health insurance, the cost of treatment can be a massive strain, so you should help your parent develop a financial plan to cover their care needs and look into financial assistance options if need be. Even if your parent has Medicare, chances are they’ll need additional financial resources to cover all of their medical bills and prescription medications. So, what are their options? If they have the original Medicare plan, they can add drug coverage or a Medicare Supplement Insurance policy. If they have a Medicare Advantage plan, this may already be covered. Go over their health insurance policies to identify any gaps in coverage or out-of-pocket expenses. If your parent has a terminal illness like late-stage cancer, it may be time to make additional arrangements. If they have life insurance, you can apply for a viatical settlement to cover expenses and give your parent more financial freedom as they reach the end of their journey.

What is a viatical settlement?

Viatical settlement companies will buy out life insurance policies, either through a licensed broker or directly from the insurance company. Essentially what this means is policyholders can sell their life insurance policy to a viatical settlement provider for a lump sum cash payout. This payout will be less than the policy’s death benefit, but you’ll get more of it than you would surrender your policy on your own. Instead of paying out the death benefit to the policy owner’s beneficiary after they pass, the viatical settlement provider becomes the sole beneficiary and receives the net death benefit.

The viatical settlement process may be different depending on brokers and insurance companies, but usually, anyone with a chronic illness and existing life insurance policy will qualify. American Life Fund viatical settlements can be processed in a matter of days. Once you’ve received the cash payout, you’re free to spend it however you please — whether that’s paying off medical bills, covering hospice costs, or taking one last family vacation together.

Helping your parent manage chronic health conditions is a lot of work, from medication management to help with bills. It can seem overwhelming at times, but with the right tools and knowledge, you can give your parent the care they deserve.